Saturday, September 12, 2009

Coffee and the Untrained Palate

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Latte at Philippa's in Armadale, Melbourne

I've never been a big coffee drinker and only ordered an occasional cappuccino whenever I had lunch with the girls. Then Starbucks came to town together with all the other coffee shops. And because it became a hang out and a meeting place, I got used to having cafe mochas. That tasted good. Finally I settled on Cafe Latte because I really do like a lot of milk in my coffee.

But it was in Italy a few years ago that I became a coffee-drinker. They would serve a cappuccino with breakfast at the BnB we were staying at and it gave me a giddy feeling the whole morning. I couldn't decide whether it was the coffee or just the excitement of being in Italy. Maybe it was a combination. I began to look forward to breakfast because of the coffee. I now know how people can be addicted to coffee and understand when they say they're zombies the whole day without their morning coffee. It's a legalized drug!

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Cappuccino in Rome

In Australia, they people take their coffee very seriously. Coffee here is all espresso based and even the smallest shop will have hard-to-beat coffee. And whoever gave them their names is a marketing genius. I remember my cousin ordering a "Flat white please..." and I remember thinking "oooh, what is that?!?"  She laughed and said "it's regular coffee!"  Then there's a short black (a single shot of espresso) and a long black (an espresso topped off with water) too.

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Cappuccino at Vue de Monde Bistro, Melbourne

I still order lattes which is similar to a flat white but with more milk. A flat white comes in a cup and the latte usually in a glass.  I think the small-cafe glass is stylish, even if not very practical. In Australia, I looked forward to having coffee every morning and afternoon too. I think the best I had on the trip to Melbourne was at Caffe Brunetti-- rich, smooth and velvety. 

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Latte at Caffe Brunetti, Carlton

I also learned just recently that you're not supposed to stir a cappuccino before you drink it--something to do with the microscopic bubbles. In Italy at breakfast, I'd always stir the whole thing. It all tasted the same to my untrained palate.

But now I finally know what people mean when they say the coffee is so good in Italy. I think it's just as good in Australia. It's probably not such a good habit to take up, after having stayed coffee-free for so many years. For a someone who doesn't drink coffee regularly, I'm now craving and dreaming of the coffee I had in Melbourne, and wondering where I can get a really good cup in Manila.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Melting Moment

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I came across these cookies when I was first went to Sydney almost ten years ago. They were in almost every coffee shop and snack shop and in many restaurants too--always in jars near the cashier, meant to be an impulse buy. Of course I always bought one. Two shortbread cookies with cream in between, they were so good! I would look forward to having one after lunch or an afternoon coffee (tea?). My cousin who lives in Sydney was surprised I was so thrilled with something so ordinary. Of course I know the shortbread cookies that come in a tin, or a box (Walkers?)--but these always looked so tempting. How can anyone resist?

I'm familiar with chocolate chip cookies in a jar, but not shortbread cookies named "melting moments". In other places they were called "soothing moments" or something similar. It's probably a British thing? I've only been to London a couple of times and I didn't particularly notice them in jars at the checkout counter there.
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Another thing i noticed in Australia then was the toasted sandwiches which were toasted on George Foreman type grillsl. This was ten years ago and before paninis became common in the States. (Paninis in Italy were hardly the toasted sandwiches we know paninis to be. I remember seeing paninis in Italy laid out in trays--a few slices of salami folded inside ciabatta-looking rolls, sitting out there for at least a couple of hours. They were hard!) I usually like my sandwiches on toasted bread, and I remember being pleasantly surprised when I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich from a kiosk in a Brisbane mall and it was a hot toasted sandwich. Simple grilled ham and cheese. Yum!

So probably very ordinary to the mates down under, but toasted sandwiches and melting moments made quite an impression on me! And I haven't started yet with the coffee...

Rainbow in Yarra!

rainbow to melbourne

I've never been this close to the end of a rainbow! 
When we actually got to it, it was at the entrance of Chateau Yering. What a 
beautiful place! I would've wanted to try this place if only for one 
night (had we had that extra night!). Good thing we didn't too because 
it was quiet expensive. It's a"Historic House" hotel that is part of the
Relais and Chateau group of hotels. Of course I still asked to see the rooms.

chateau bedroom
I love "period" rooms and bathrooms


I liked all the furniture in the sitting room!

morning room

There are just so many options to stay at the Yarra Valley that
if ever I went back, I would still explore the other little bed and
breakfasts around the area. I don't even mind transferring inns
everynight so I could explore as many of them as possible!

I love beautifully designed hotels and I observe every little
detail down to the baseboard and the cornices. Of course I take home all
the amenities like the shampoos and conditioners. I also take the
stationery that's in the desk and also the little notepad beside the
bed. I actually read in some travel magazine about the author "stealing"
these things. It's hardly stealing if it's meant to be consumed anyway. I
wouldn't want to use slippers someone else has used. So it they are
sealed are unused, I take them home. At least I remember the hotel long
after I've left it!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Love Cheese!

Actually, I do love cheese, but the main reason for this post is that I think I finally learned how to download my photos to Flickr (free space), and then link the photos here back to the photo on Flickr so that I don't use up my allowable download space on Blogger. Hmmm..

But I think there still should be a better way to drag and drop the photos instead of cut and paste between two URLs? I must be doing something wrong. Will practice with more..

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Beautiful Balgownie

We stayed the night at the Balgownie Estate. The suite was very well appointed, it made us want to stay in and watch DVDs all night. But of course we ended up having dinner at the vineyard restaurant called Rae's, where I had this really delicious appetizer which had watermelon and goat cheese. The steak dishes were good too.

During the day we visited the Tarrawarra Estate for wine tasting and to have a look at the art gallery. Pete, the gentleman at the bar was very accommodating, giving us the history and describing the different terroirs of the area.

Having had most of my wine experience in California in the 80's, where and when I developed a preference for Cabernet Sauvingon, I didn't really pay attention to the lighter Pinot Noir and Shiraz stuff. But come to think of it, lighter reds and whites are much better suited to our tropical environment. I really liked the fruity crisp whites and the lighter reds--we went away with a bottle of Shiraz.

We could've stayed here longer and just basically stay at the Yarra Valley but someone told us we had to check out the Mornington Peninsula and check out the scene there too. So by noon the next day, we were off with our Hertz Neverlost, typing in "Mornington".

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Day at Yarra Valley

From the Melbourne Airport, we got a car from Hertz and drove straight to the Yarra Valley where we were going to spend the night. We made sure we had a Hertz Neverlost, which is just a nice name for a GPS. It's essential specially for people like us, who drive on the "other side of the road"!

Drove straight to Healesville so we could have lunch at The Innocent Bystander. We had heard so much about this place and wanted to try it. We were driving and didn't know our way around yet, so decided not to do any wine tasting yet. We were more hungry...

The Four-Cheese pizza was delicious with a very thin crisp crust. It was a bit salty for me but what wonderful flavors. We also had something like a hummus dip which came with fresh country bread and full-flavored olive oil for dipping.

The place had free wifi, and the password is "buyourwine". The ambience reminded me of NY. Funky cafe. 

And the first of many delicious lattes I was  going to enjoy here in Australia. These people take their coffee very seriously. No weak brews here, all espresso-based coffees. 

Those are canelles in the background. They had a promo--a coffee and a canelle for $6 (less $1 for buying it together), and the canelle would be free if you weren't thrilled by it. Well, I really wasn't thrilled by it, but my canelle reference is directly from Paris, straight from a canelle cart called Le canele Baillardran. I remember it fondly being hot, very crisp on the outside, and soft and almost empty on the inside. I was blown away when I first tried this five years ago that I googled what a canelle was then.  I was now pleasantly surprised to see it in Melbourne, as a regular pastry in many of the coffee shops.  Altho it was less than spectacular here, I decided to be nice and not say anything about not being totally thrilled. I still enjoyed coffee and canelle very much.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Patterned Floors

Paoay Church in Ilocos

I've always been attracted to cement tiles/encaustic tiles. I came across a website that explained everything about encaustic tiles--it's history, and even how to care for them. It's an American site. It also listed the suppliers who still make these tiles all over the world. Unfortunately at the time I discovered the website, there was nothing listed for the Philippines. I quickly fixed that by emailing them!

The Laguna house where my father-in-law grew up has cement tiles in all the rooms, in different patterns. His ancestral home was turned into a library for kids.

Quan An Ngon in Hanoi

Only when I started being more observant of floors did I start noticing how ordinary these tiles were in places such as Vietnam, where even the streetmarket stalls had them. Maybe they were once the cheapest tiles? They are definitely not the cheapest tiles in Manila, where a lot of people refer to them as "Machuca tiles". Machuca is actually a name of a person, a Spanish dude who started making if here at the turn of the century. Today, many old tiles are "harvested" off old homes and resold to collectors and people who restore homes. The thing is, there is no reason to buy the worn out ones when Machuca still makes tiles in Manila the way they did for many decades. Many homeowners and commercial establishments still use them.

Most of the Machuca patterns are multi-colored. They hardly have any which are just one color like the one above, although you can customize and specify what you want, after all, a one color tile is much simpler to make than the many-colored tiles The only other manufacturer in Manila I'm aware of is Malaga tiles or Habitiles.

A restaurant in Saigon

After growing up with the Machuca patterns, it was refreshing to see the selection of Malaga Tiles. Malaga Tiles/Habitiles has many one-colored patterns and reproduce older-looking ones. It's owned by  Edwin Espiritu who is extremely accommodating. I had a clear idea of the effect I wanted, but I didn't know how to achieve it.  Finally after a number of meetings in his shop, he decided  he would make a pattern one just for me (copying a pattern from Architectural Digest). We changed the colors to the colors I wanted for my kitchen, and voila! I love my kitchen!

My kitchen during construction days..

For my  foyer, I just chose something from what he had because I wanted black and white only. I love the look--it has so much character.

The rest of the house has wooden floors. It's a very nice contrast.

Out of Africa?

Flying above Kruger National Park in Africa--everything looked quite "manicured". I think I was expecting a jungle.
We stayed at King's Camp in the Timbavati Reserve, right outside of Kruger. They had about 12 cottages, and they were quite luxurious. I loved the crystal and silver details in the room.I always take photos of interior details observing how designers solve "termination" problems. Lots of times I copy things I see years later and I usually refer to these pictures. Why reinvent the wheel?

This was the sitting room in our cottage. English style furniture. I lay on the couch and had a sherry which was in a crystal decanter on the coffee table. I don't even drink sherry, but I had to feel the part.

The whole room smelled very "natural", like raw grass.  The roofs of the all cottages are thatched grass. Nice effect. Very comfortable bed, definitely didn't want to leave it at the crack of dawn to look for animals.

Days started very early, but there was lots of free time in between drives--just to hang out, swim or read a book.

The safari--or the journey. Which was driving around until we spotted the "Big 5". Sometimes we drove for hours not seeing anything. We would stop in the middle for coffee/tea in the middle of the morning drive. In the afternoon drive, we would stop for "sundowners", which would consist of a cocktail and hot canapes. Very chi-chi touches. But I wasn't impressed with driving around for hours to spy wild animals that were living in their habitat. It all seemed staged to me. I was told that I would really feel the wilderness in the Okavonga Delta and not here in the reserves.

I don't think I'm an animal sort of person because I enjoyed the luxe part of the trip more than the animals. (I have more photos of the camp than of the animals!) But Africa still is alluring--I still love Out of Africa, for many things: the period setting, romantic angle, beautiful soundtrack, captivating cinematography, and of course, Robert Redford.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the Heart of Rome

What a wonderfully-located apartment we had in Rome. 

I found it as Residenza Lucina online but it is also called Teichner Suites. It is located in the "Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina", a little piazza right around the corner from the Spanish Steps--or basically a 5 minute walk.  Our suite (couldn't really be called an apartment because it had no kitchen!) was right above the Bar Teichner and I think the three suites above are owned by the same family that owns the Bar Teichner. 

Bar Teichner shares a building with the Carabinieri office--but I hardly saw the carabinieris. Tsk tsk, too bad. In the piazza also is the Basilica di San Lorenzo, where we heard mass.

There are two other bars in the piazza and were told the one across the street had the best gelato in Rome. Unfortunately, we weren't able to try it because we were so busy walking away from the piazza to try things far away.

This location was perfect for the kids. In the mornings, the hubby and I could come down from the suite at our leisure and while waiting for each other, the kids could play around the piazza. We didn't need to worry about cars or that they would get lost because they would always be within sight.

This is the view outside our first floor window. Our place had free wifi, and the cafe below also had free wifi.  My cousin Bea, who was  also in Rome the same week we were, actually wandered into the piazza and sat down at this cafe and caught up with all her email. The apartment she rented had no internet connection. She did this without knowing that we were staying in a suite upstairs (this window is actually right above the Bottega Veneta store!)

The suite is not plush but it was very spacious for the four of us. The kids slept down in the living room--one on a rollaway bed, and the other on the sofa. We had a very comfortable queen bed up a few steps.

The bathroom was spacious and new too!. The tiles on the floor were glazed tho--they should have used matte tiles with a rougher texture. I think it would be safer. But it was nice and bright.

Oops, this is our unmade bed. They had maid service and our beds were made and towels changed everyday.

This is the view  of the Piazza San Lorenzo from the Spanish Steps side. The umbrella on the far left is Bar Teichner. If you walked through the square and and out the far end, that road would lead you to the Pantheon and the famous ice cream stores: Giolitti, De la Parma and San Crispino.

note: The Teichner Suite site doesn't seem to link to a correct email address.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Moving In...and Feng Shui

Someone told me that January 29 was a good day to move, according to the Feng Shui calendar. We're not Chinese, but I thought that it wouldn't hurt to target that day--since we needed a deadline anyway! Then someone told me that the best time to move was between 6 to 9 am. What?!?! How do I move into a house in 3 hours? Even if I started at 6 am (which the village association is NOT going to allow anyway) I will be moving things starting at the lucky hour, and then overlap into the unlucky hour, and probably end the move during a bad day!  This was all too confusing.

I was pacified when my cousin told me that it was just a "symbolic move", or just the start of the move, and the symbolic thing was to bring into the new house: a container of rice, salt, sugar and water, plus a religious symbol. I don't know if she just lumped  a whole bunch of Chinese/Filipino/Spanish beliefs together, but that's what I did.

The kids had to be in school at 7:15 am, so we left our old place at 6:30, dropped our  "moving symbols" in the new house, looked around a bit and then we were off to school. We definitely made our symbolic move within the luckiest hours of the luckiest day of the month. I was belatedly told that I should've included a container of coins too.

Soon this dusty, empty (there was still minor work going on in different parts of the house) house was going to be full of boxes and junk that I didn't have the time and energy to sort out before moving.

Now these "moving symbols" are all sitting on top of the upper cabinet, and I'm not sure if I'm allowed to use them or if I'm supposed to keep them there forever. Maybe it should've been the first thing I consumed during my first days here? Who knows? Good thing were not Chinese, or Spanish, and we really don't believe in these things anyway.

Knowing an "auspicious date" got us to make that move, and that was the whole point anyway.

Roman Holiday with Kids

It was fun having the kids in Rome. We were able to find a brilliantly located and  spacious apartment for the four of us (wifi and CNN included!) for the 5 nights we were there.

Before the trip, which also brought us to London and Amsterdam, we made sure the kids read Vacation under the Volcano and also the Ancient Rome Research Guide of the Magic Tree House series. Of course  Roman Holiday was  our feature presentation during one of our Friday movie nights at home. Required watching before this trip also included My Fair Lady. I also got them a simple version of Anne Frank's Diary for the Amsterdam part.

I had to condition myself that this was going to be a "kid trip" meaning no late-night dining and no leisurely shopping.

 But I found that in Rome, so many things interest small kids. Just playing in the piazza with a balloon kept them entertained while we sat for coffee.

They had a great time trying out all the gelatos we passed, making special stops in Giolitti, dela Parma and San Crispino. For them gelato was gelato and they were just thrilled that they got to eat so much ice cream in one day. Food was easy with the 6-year-old preferring cream sauce or olive oil pastas, and the 8-year-old preferring red sauces. 

We had lots of pizzas too. The nice thin-crusted ones hot and crisp from the oven.

I read somewhere that water that comes from fountains in Rome is potable. I didn't remember this until I saw tourists filling water bottles from the fountain in front of the Spanish Steps, as well as drinking from the many hydrant-looking fountains around town. The kids were thrilled to follow them.

And of course since the kids loved this part of Roman Holiday, we had to visit La Boca dela Verita, something I never visited in any of my previous trips to Rome. We had to fall in line and when we got to the front, the guy controlling the front would take only a couple of shots. It made the line move fast and it was obviously only for photo ops. No time to do a little skit about asking a question and seeing if one is telling the truth--which the kids were expecting.

Too bad, but we got a nice shot of the family anyway.

The Colosseum was very interesting for them because they knew a lot about it already from their books, and because B brought things to life for them as he described how gladiators and animals were made to fight during those times.

Actually children are really easy to please and can entertain themselves with the simplest things. They're lucky to have grandparents who like to bring them along on their trips!


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